Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Crafting 101: Building The Structure

There is a difference between crafting a story and just getting up and telling one.  Pretty much anyone who isn't afraid of speaking in public can get up and tell a story of some kind.  We share stories at weddings and funerals.  We share them during worship services, and amongst friends.  We share them on the radio and television. 

In this series of Blogs, I will look at a single story, and show the process I use to get from my first exposure to a tale all the way to the finished structure.

This is the second entry in the series.

The Pot Maker and The Tiger - The Story

1. Crafting 101: The Questions I Ask

2. Crafting 101:  Building The Structure

3. Crafting 101:  Flesh On The Bones

4. Crafting 101:  Donkeys and tigers and War Horses., Oh My!

5.  Crafting 101:  There Are No Little Characters....

6.  Crafting 101:  Putting It Together

7.  Crafting 101:  Introductions!

In order to build structure in a story, I consider all of the characters, the theme of the story, and what I think the story could be trying to say.  This requires me to think about the main characters in several different incarnations, and consider what makes the story work.  I also need to consider what direction I want to take the tale.  

Now for the blueprints of my tale

1.  What do I know about the main character in this story?

He likes to tell stories.  He makes pots.  He actually becomes the hero of a story.  He goes back to making pots. 

Is he a braggart? Is he a bully?  He might be, but I don't like telling stories where mean people barge their way into fame and fortune.

Is he hapless?  He could be, but I'm not interested in telling stories about hapless characters.

Is he someone who gets himself into a situation and rises to the occasion, albeit in a hilarious way?  Maybe.  

Unlikely hero stuff would work for this story.  In the end, he scouts the front to the best of his ability - he just doesn't have much ability.

His bite is worse than his bark.

When he is faced with scouting the front, he decides to do his best, and it works out for the best.  

Then again, maybe he is a bit hapless.  Maybe he blunders into his situation.

Perhaps he never rises to the occasion at all.  Maybe he is a good natured fellow who bites off more than he can chew and circumstance runs away with him.  Maybe he just can't resist a good story, and when he finds himself in this one, it carries him off before he realizes what is happening.

Why would he actually scout the front?  Bravery?  Bravado?  They might kill him, after all, and I doubt he would really want that to happen.

Is he willing to die for his stories?  I don't know.

Wait.  Maybe this poor guy is just the victim of a couple of accidents.  What if scouting the front was an accident, just like riding the tiger? At least that's consistent.  

Where does that take me?

What if he didn't mean to scout the front?  What if he had enough sense to know he wasn't qualified for the job, but was trying to put the best face on it?

What if he was going to not scout the front, and rely on his storytelling skills to pretend he had?


This was definitely an accident, but what about my pot maker?

So, I have some places to begin.  Some of the above scenarios have some potential.  Let's see what else is in this story. 

2. What is the natural frame of this story?

In the beginning there is a man who makes pots and tells stories.  A whole bunch of stuff happens to him.  In the end there is a man who makes pots and tells stories.

Okay, well that's easy for me.  This is the whole 'there's no place like home' thing.

3.  Supporting Cast

Now, with some possible places to take the main character, and a frame, I start looking at the supporting cast, and see what I can make of them.

The donkey.  

He's a smart donkey.  He stays at the factory, but he comes home when tied to the inn.  Why?  Is he tired?  Annoyed?  Why does he stay at the factory all day?  Do I need to articulate any of this to an audience or can I just introduce him and make him smart?  The fact that he unties himself in the evening is funny.  Do I actually need to know what he does at the factory?  Can I just let him be a funny donkey who unties himself, setting up the gag of the pot maker riding the tiger home?  Don't need to know that right now.  After I start telling the story I'll see how the donkey shapes up, but I can always revisit any of this.  Of course, it might make the set up of the story take too long.  Sheesh, I'll keep it bare boned for now.

The Wife
Is she one of those women who laments that her husband has no ambition?

Does she lament her husband's storytelling?
Is she good natured about it, or is she fed up?
Is she long suffering?
Is she playful?
Does she encourage his daydreaming?
Has she bought into the stories?
Does she expect him to be a hero, her hero?
Does she believe in everything he does?
Is she looking to make him get ahead in life?

The wife could have a much bigger and more interesting role in this tale if I cast her in specific ways. 

It would be fun to have her be the one to send the Raja the letter explaining about the tiger, or stepping in and announcing that her husband is the best scout in the area.

Maybe she's as big or bigger of a storyteller than he is.  

She could even be the one who gives the pot maker whatever plan he is going to try other than scouting the front.

She could even have a recurring complaint or refrain.  Perhaps she could throw her hands up and say, 'Get your head out of the clouds!' or 'What were you thinking?' or 'Dream bigger!' or 'If only we did live in a story!' or  'Tomorrow could be better!'  

Wait!  Maybe the pot maker himself could have a repeating refrain of 'Tomorrow could be better!'  Or something like that!  Yes.....

Wait, I've gone far afield.  

This story is full of disparate elements, and non repetitious events.  I could add some kind of repetition for the audience to pull it together, but unless I'm presenting this to elementary audiences, I don't think it will add anything to the story. 

Repetitive elements would cue a younger audience when an episode is about to change.  This is a great 'reading strategy device' that helps emerging readers learn to recognize patterns in different kinds of literature.  So, am I developing this story with some elements of working with elementary kids in mind?

Do I want to try this on with elementary?  I don't think so.  I like it for a slightly older audience.

So I'm not even going to try elementary school?  Okay.  That makes things easier.  We'll assume that sixth grade is the youngest group who will encounter this tale.

Well, if I am dropping this in middle school, then I will stop the audience participation.  it isn't that you can't get middle school kids to participate, I have a number of tales where they do, but this one doesn't really need it. 

Then again, Just because I don't see it playing younger than 11 doesn't mean it won't.  It just means that at this juncture I can't see it. 

Back to building.

The tiger?  

Well, he's full of himself and unafraid right up until the time he hears the woman begin to complain about the insidious dripping.  That one, at least, is easy.

The old woman with the dripping roof needs some moxie.   She's got a quavery voice, and she is grouchy.  She starts out muttering, but her voice gets louder and louder as she prepares for the dripping to start.

The Scout Horse.  Well, we know what he does, he goes tearing up to the front at top speed.

Finally, what terms or words might need some explanation in the body of the text?


What does a scout do?


What kind of pots does this pot maker make, and why do they have a factory for it?

Man eating tigers?  Most people won't have a problem with this, but we'll see

Okay, now I've got some places to start building.  At this point I have no idea how the story is going to shape itself into a tale since I have so many different ways I could go. 

By the way, which way would you take this? 

Happy Crafting!

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